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RPT-Smartphone competition to bite in 2010 after Q4 boom

(Repeating to correct spelling of competition in headline)

* Q4 smartphones sales up 30 pct y/y-Strategy Analytics

* Nokia leads market volumes, ahead of RIM and Apple

* competition to increase further in 2010

By Tarmo Virki, European technology correspondent

HELSINKI, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Booming demand for new, cheaper smartphones helped handset market to recover late last year, but rivalry for a piece of this lucrative market will turn fierce in 2010 as many new vendors are entering the market.

“The smartphone market will become ultra competitive in 2010, said analyst Neil Mawston from Strategy Analytics.

“The smartphone wars will be good news for consumers, but the fierce competition will inevitably place downward pressure on vendors’ pricing and margins,” he said.

South Korean firms Samsung Electronics 005930.KS and LG Electronics 066570.KS, the world's No. 2 and No. 3 handset vendors, are planning to sharply increase their very low smartphone sales, while new players like Huawei [HWT.UL] and Dell DELL.O are strengthening their offerings.

HTC 2498.TW, the world's No. 4 smartphone brand, said last week it will be one of the first to suffer from increasing competition when it forecasting a decline in gross profit margin in the first quarter of 2010. [ID:nTOE60P07U]

Research firm Strategy Analytics said on Monday the smartphone market grew 30 percent year-on-year in the December quarter to 53 million phones, highest ever.

Finland's Nokia NOK1V.HE -- which continues to sell more smartphones than its two closest rivals RIM RIMM.ORIM.TO and Apple AAPL.O together -- shipped 20.8 million smartphones in the December quarter, up 38 percent from a year ago.

An improving position in the smartphone market -- helped by messaging phones like E71 and E72 -- lifted Nokia’s sales and profits in the December quarter above analysts forecasts, sending its shares soaring last week. [ID:nLDE60Q18A]

Nokia’s average smartphone prices dipped to 186 euros ($261) from 190 euros in the third quarter. Blackberry maker RIM shipped 10.7 million smartphones in the December quarter, remaining comfortably ahead of Apple’s 8.7 million iPhones, Strategy Analytics said.

“RIM continues to expand its international footprint beyond the core territory of North America deeper into Western Europe and parts of Asia,” the research firm said. (Editing by David Cowell)